In the annals of Obama presidency photographs, few images are likely to become as iconic in their representation of feigned powerlessness as that of a pouting first lady holding up a sign reading #Bring- BackOurGirls. The image is worse than pathetic; it’s actually infuriating.
For either people care about things, or they don’t. If the president (who I assume was consulted before Michelle struck the pose) doesn’t care about the hundreds of girls who are now in the hands of jihadi barbarians, then he should just say so.
But if he does care, then as the commander- in-chief of what is still (for the time being, at least) the most powerful military in the world, he might actually deploy either his soldiers or some of the equipment at their disposal. Even one drone would be infinitely more useful than a Twitter hashtag on a piece of cardboard.
To whatever extent a hashtag does anything at all, it does it only online; writing it out with a magic marker serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever.
Reports are beginning to emerge that the US may have dispatched hardware to assist with the search – maybe. But either way, the pout and the sign are wrong in so many ways that it’s difficult to count.
Yet before we wax too self-righteous about American inaction on the Nigerian girls front, let’s note that the principle that “either people care about things, or they don’t” applies to us no less than it applies to anyone else. And these days, we Israelis are also looking pretty pathetic.
A week ago or so, I posted a flyer on my Facebook page for a gathering scheduled to take place in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence, to protest both the continued “price tag” activities of a few Israeli Jewish extremists, as well as the government’s inaction in response. “End Jewish terror,” the poster said, then gave the time and place. And what were the Facebook responses to the poster? Mostly, they condemned the poster’s wording.
“Don’t you think calling it ‘terror’ is inaccurate, to say the least?” asked one person from Beit Shemesh. And chiming in from the American Midwest, another person wrote, “It’s offensive to refer to graffiti as ‘terror’ when the other side is targeting Jews for murder. Price Tag is bad but it should not be conflated to murder,” with grammar so wrong that it was an apt metaphor for his position.
Yet a third person, opining in Judea and Samaria, responded by posting a link to an article about how a tombstone in Israel had been vandalized and a swastika spray-painted on it – as if to say what, precisely? That because they’re pigs, we can be pigs, too? That our standard of behavior should descend to that of our enemies?
The real conversation we need to have is about what sorts of communities and educations give rise to attacks such as ‘Price Tag,’ and why most Israelis and supporters of Israel prefer to ignore the fact that it’s getting worse. Consider this: In April, there were 16 incidents targeting Arabs reported in the West Bank and Israel, compared with 17 from January through March and 48 in all of last year. Are definitions of “terror” really what should be bothering us?
Are we going to wait until they kill a soldier? When an Israeli woman shamelessly posts her name and her picture and blogs “I am in favor of throwing stone [at Jews, that is, for there’s no question about Arabs], in certain situations, even if that stone will lead to the death of a soldier!! And I will support anyone who throws stones, even in cases where I did not think that the stone-throwing was necessary,” to where have we descended? This is the Israel of which we’re proud?
Some pretty significant people here think that is terror. Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni have said the cabinet should classify groups behind pricetag attacks as terrorist organizations. Carmi Gillon, former head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), insisted that “we need to deal with rioters as we dealt with the Jewish underground and like we dealt with Kach terrorists – to come down on them with force, to put them into prison for many years and create deterrence.”
Would you prefer someone further to the Right who says that same thing? How’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon? We “must fight with an iron fist against the terror which is wrongly called ‘price tag’ – an ugly phenomenon which has no connection to Jewish values and morals, and whose aim is to harm Arabs only because they are Arabs,” said Ya’alon on Remembrance Day.
So let’s not have the “Is this terror?” conversation. It misses the point.
There are two real issues at play. One is that in a small but probably increasing segment of Israel’s Jewish population, there is a venomous hatred for all Arabs that, coupled with no respect for the rule of law, is liable to get completely out of hand. And the other is that no one seems to care. Indeed, many ostensible supporters of Israel seem to think that the best way to defend Israel’s good name is to argue about what to call all of this.
But that’s utterly wrongheaded. The best way to defend Israel’s good name is to insist that Israel do whatever it takes to eradicate this cancer before it’s too late. What, after all, was the goal of Zionism? If the purpose of creating a Jewish state was to normalize life for Jews in other parts of the world, then Zionism has failed. Just ask Jews in France.
If the purpose of Zionism was, as some said, to end anti-Semitism by making the Jews a people like any other, then Zionism has failed. Ask Jews in Ukraine.
If the purpose of Zionism was to give the Jews a place where they’d finally be safe, then Zionism has failed. Ask the Jews of Sderot.
Zionism, though, has succeeded in many other ways, not least of which was ending the era in which Jews could only imagine what kind of society we’d create if we could. Zionism afforded us the opportunity to be real, and to stop imagining. The schools are ours. The media are ours. The police are ours. The tax authorities are ours. The courts are ours. The leadership is ours.
So now, the responsibility is ours, too. Are we going to be satisfied by pointing out that Palestinian behavior is worse than ours? That’s the test of a decent Jewish society? Are we going to hide behind definitions, or are we going to look ourselves squarely in the eye and ask, “What has gone wrong, and what are we going to do to fix it before it gets worse?”
It’s not unlike that image of the first lady with her pathetic sign. People with power have responsibility. And either they assume that responsibility, or they are part of the problem.
The writer is senior vice president, Koret Distinguished Fellow and chair of the core curriculum at Shalem College, Israel’s first liberal arts college, in Jerusalem. His latest book, Menachem Begin: The Battle for Israel’s Soul, was just released by NextBook.